World War 1 heroes – Henry Baldwin and Percy Harmer

This year, 2014, with it’s big anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, I have thought a lot about my own ancestors and their own involvement in the war. Research into the available records have revealed that a number of my ancestors fought.  For instance I found service papers that revealed that Albert John Terry, my great grandfather didn’t enlist until 1917, and unfortunately he forfeited 7 days pay for leaving his kit hanging up in the kitchen!

It would appear that most of my ancestors who were involved returned from the war except for two great great uncles:

Gravestone of Henry Baldwin
Gravestone of Henry Baldwin

Henry James Baldwin born 30 September 1885 in Hoxton, Middlesex.  He was my great grandfather, Reuben Baldwin’s eldest brother.   From service records found so far it would appear that Henry and his brothers were sent from London at an early age to train at the naval base of Portsmouth.  Henry became a regular soldier and he appeared on the 1911 census in Hong Kong as a Gunner with the 87th Company Royal Garrison Artillery.  From the little I have managed to learn so far they were called back to Europe at the beginning of WW1 and he died at the 4th siege battery at Ypres on 16 June 1915.  His informal will leaves all his personal belongings to his mother.

Gravestone of Percy Harmer
Gravestone of Percy Harmer

Percy Harmer on the other hand was born on 28 January 1899 in Dallington, Sussex and he was only 15 years of age at the outbreak of war.  The 1911 census had him living at home with his family and he was still attending school, no doubt at Dallington village school.  It is likely that by 1914 he had followed his brother’s example and was working as a farm labourer on one of the many local farms nearby.  I haven’t managed to find his service record but from information found on the web it appeared he was probably one of ‘Lowther’s lambs’ and enlisted early 1916 at the age of 17.  He was in the 11th batallion of the Royal Sussex Regiment, one of the Southdown Batallion.  More information can be found at

Unfortunately he died on 3 March 1918 in the Somme during the last great push by the Germans.  He was 19 years of age and his name appears on the memorial in the Town Hall in Eastbourne.

With both these young men dying, any potential family lines ended and when their close family died they became forgotten.  Through my family history research I have resurrected their existence and through telling their stories once again they can be honoured for fighting for their country.

For more information about the war dead from Dallington check out the Dallington village website.  Roy Iremonger has researched the names of the young men from Dallington who fought and his book can be found here:

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My ancestors of the Weald

I work at the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in a Unit set up to help conserve a very special landscape.  Long before I started working there or even before I had heard of the High Weald or AONBs, the Wealden part of Sussex was a special place to me.

Grandparents at Punnetts Town
Grandparents at Punnetts Town

My grandparents lived in Punnetts Town and my childhood was punctuated with holidays there, exploring the woods, gills, fields and footpaths around the area between there and Dallington.  I always felt a strong affinity with the landscape and have always felt drawn there as if I was at home despite living some 10 miles away.

It was not until 2004 when I embarked upon my family history that I realised why, for 500 years and more my family have lived in that part of Sussex.  Burwash, Dallington, Warbleton, Wadhurst, Heathfield are all names embedded in my family tree and now I know why I feel so at home.

So what has this got to do with working at the High Weald AONB, well this is a special landscape, and as quoted on the homepage of the website ‘A medieval landscape of wooded, rolling hills studded with sandstone outcrops; small, irregular-shaped fields; scattered farmsteads; and ancient routeways.’  I feel an immense pride in the fact that this landscape was shaped by my ancestors along with many other local families who helped to farm the medieval landscape, fell the woods and create the sunken routeways.  I have been carrying on that tradition for 15 years by ‘doing my bit’ at the Unit.

Dudwell Valley, photographer Janina Holubecki for the High Weald AONB Unit
Dudwell Valley, photographer Janina Holubecki for the High Weald AONB Unit

The Weald is not a wild place like the Lake District or the Peaks, its beauty to me at least, is in the fact it has been managed over centuries by people making a living for themselves in a number of landscape based industries such as farming and the Iron industry, which was so prevalent in the Weald during the Tudor times.

Through this blog I will tell the human stories of some of those who lived and worked in this landscape and why this landscape is so important and why we should care today.

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William Pilbeam, Chicken crammer!

William John Pilbeam was born on 4 April 1849 in Warbleton, Sussex and baptised on 6 May 1849 at Dallington Church to James and Sarah.  James was an agricultural labourer.

When William was 2 he was living with his parents and Ann, aged 9, Harriet, aged 8 and Emily, aged 3 at Rushlake Green at the time of the 1851 census. James was an Agricultural Labourer and Dairyman.  William had five siblings, all born and baptised either in Warbleton or Dallington.

During the 1861 census William was still living at home, aged 12 with his parents. Also at home were Harriet, aged 18, Emily, aged 10 and Lucy Hannah, aged 9. William was working as an Agricultural Labourer on the farm. James was now a Bailiff and Agricultural Labourer on a farm at Tye House, Herstmonceux, (probably down Lower Road near Golden Cross, Herstmonceux).

Little Rigford FarmBy 1871 the family had moved to Little Rigford, Earl’s Down, Warbleton. James, William’s father had died the previous year and Sarah was now a farmer of 20 acres. Harriet, 28 was married to James Martin who was helping on the farm. Emily, aged 23 still lived at home. William, 22 was a gardener.

The marriage of William John Pilbeam and Phillis Funnell took place on 4 April 1877 at the Parish Church, Warbleton, Sussex. William was described on the certificate as a 28 year old bachelor and Farmer from Warbleton and Phillis was described as a 28 year old spinster from Warbleton. Both fathers, James Pilbeam and John Funnell were Farmers and both deceased. The witnesses were Lucy Hannah Pilbeam, sister of the Groom and James White, Phillis’s stepfather.

By 1881 William had taken over the farm at Little Rigford and was living with his wife Phillis and their first sons, William, aged 3 and Thomas, aged 2.  Sarah, William’s mother, by this time, 67 years of age had moved to a cottage, Golan Cottage, Warbleton with Emily and her daughter Edith, aged 4. There is no mention of a husband for Emily.

At the time of the 1891 census Little Rigford Farm had become Rushford Farm, (still in the Pilbeam family to this day). William was a Farmer and Chicken Fattener. With them were children; William, aged 13, helping on the farm, Thomas, aged 12, Caroline, aged 8, George, aged 6 and Lucy, aged 3.

Chicken Fattening or ‘cramming’ was carried out on several farms in the Warbleton area and for a short time proved to be very profitable. Poultry farming was especially suited to small farms because of the skill and supervision required. The farmers organised themselves into two groups, rearing and fattening. Fatteners were often called ‘higglers’ and after collecting lean chickens from the rearers they would keep them for a month or so and sell them deadweight to the central markets in London, sent by train from Heathfield. In 1893 at a time when William was a chicken fattener more than one million chickens were sent to London.

The chickens were fed with oats and separated milk that was produced on the farm and the manure used on the farm. Thus a farmer could run a farm and cram chickens to help his family survive at a time when agriculture was generally on the wane in the Weald. To dispense with labour, the chickens, previously fed by hand were now crammed by a machine worked by a treadle. Apparently chicken cramming was a lucrative business and earned a lot of money for the young farmers who took part in this dubious activity!

The machine could be worked by one man, who could work the treadle with his foot and hold the bird with his two hands. The cram, mixed to a paste was poured into a hopper and one press of the foot would plunge a measured quantity of the cram directly into the crop of the bird, along 8 inches of rubber tubing which had been forced down its throat. Chicks could quadruple their weight in several weeks.

After killing, the chickens would be plucked, usually the stubbing (pinching out the new feathers and any remaining stubs carried out by women) and then turned quickly over a flame to singe remaining feathers. Then they were powdered with flour, placed in a press, breast down to give the appearance of a plumper breast and packed and sent to market.

By the time of the 1901 census William was still living at Rushford Farm. He was aged 51 and a farmer, however there is no mention of chicken cramming still be carried out on the farm. Living with him and Phillis were Caroline, aged 18, George, (my great grandfather) aged 16 who was working on the farm and Lucy, aged 13.

William died on 26 May 1919 at home on the farm at the age of 70 years old.  He died from Apoplexy 1 hour and the informant was his son, George Pilbeam, who by that time was living at Blackdown, Punnetts Town.  He was buried at the Independent Chapel, Cade Street, Punnetts Town and left a will with the sole beneficiary being his wife, Phillis.

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Nahomi Vincent, Cuckfield to Hellingly

Nahomi Vincent (28 April 1850 – 14 February 1923, Cuckfield to Hellingly)

Nahomi Vincent
Nahomi Vincent after Gaius death

Father – William Vincent (1810 – 1885) Agricultural Labourer
Mother – Louisa Johnson (1814 – 1882)
Louisa (baptised 16 August 1835 in Cuckfield)
William (1839 – 1910 in Cuckfield)
Edward and Edmund (twins born 1842 in Cuckfield)
Martha (born 1843 in Cuckfield)
Nathan (born 1845 in Cuckfield)
James (born 1848 in Cuckfield)
Sarah (born 1854 in Cuckfield)
Esther (born 1855 in Cuckfield)

Husband – Gaius Diana Winchester (1852 – 1897)
Catherine Edith (born 1875 in Dallington)
Mildred Adeline (born 1876 in Dallington)
Mercy Louisa (1878 – 1968)
Gaius Edward (born 1880 in Dallington)
William (born 1881 in Dallington)
Naomi Elizabeth (1882 – 1956)
Alma Gertrude (born 1885 in Dallington)
Arthur (born 1888 in Dallington)
Henry (born 1890 in Dallington)
Mabel (born 1892 in Dallington)
Percival (1896 – 1965)
(Please note: I have not fully checked out all the above people yet hence many death dates are missing)

Census Information:
1851 census:
During the 1851 census Nahomi, aged 11 months was living with her parents at Millfield, Cuckfield. Also at home were her siblings, William aged 12, a scholar, Edward and Edmund aged 9, Martha aged 8, Nathan aged 4 and James aged 3. William was described as an Agricultural Labourer.

1861 census:
During the 1861 census Nahomi was living at home with her parents, again at Millfield Cottage, Cuckfield. She was 11 years old and her father William was a Thatcher. Also at home were her siblings, William aged 22, an Agricultural Labourer Martha aged 18, Nathan aged 15, James aged 13, Sarah aged 7 and Esther aged 6.

1871 census:
By 1871 Nahomi had left home, she was 21 years of age and was working as a Laundress. She was living with her brother, Nathan, his wife, Catherine aged 24 and their son William John aged 1. Nathan was a Police Constable for East Sussex Police Force and they lived at Rushlake Green. It was here that Nahomi met Gaius Winchester who she married in 1875 back at her parent’s home in Staplefield.

1881 census:
By 1881 Nahomi and Gaius were living at Dadds Farm, Earls Down near Dallington in East Sussex. Gaius was a Carrier. Nahomi was 31. Living with them were the following children – Catherine aged 5, Mildred aged 4, Mercy aged 2 and Gaius Edward aged 1.

1891 census:
By the time of the 1891 census Nahomi was 41, the family had moved down the road to Ades Farm where Gaius was a Farmer and Carrier. Children living at home were Mercy aged 12, Gaius aged 11, William aged 9, Naomi aged 8, Alma aged 6, Arthur aged 3 and Henry aged 1. Sadly on the 9 January 1897 Gaius died at the age of 44 years from Influenza, Pneumonia Exhaustion.

1901 census:
Now a widow at the age of 51, Nahomi remained at Ades Farm, Dallington where she was described as a Farmer. Living with her were Arthur aged 13, Henry aged 11, Mabel aged 8 and Percival aged 4.
Gaius & Naomi Winchester c 1875

Gaius and Nahomi Winchester c 1875
Gaius and Nahomi c 1875

Gaius & Nahomi Winchester marriage:
The marriage of Nahomi Vincent and Gaius Diana Winchester took place on 2 January 1875 at St Marks, Staplefield, Sussex. Staplefield was the residence of Nahomi at the time of her marriage so presumably she had taken her parent’s home to be married from. Gaius was described as a bachelor of full age and a carrier. Nahomi was a spinster of full age and a Laundress. Gaius’s father James Wincester was a farmer and Nahomi’s father, William was a labourer. The ceremony was conducted by W Smith, Official Minister and witnessed by William Vincent (either Nahomi’s father or brother) and Katie Winchester (Gaius’s sister).

Nahomi died on 14 February 1923 at 4 Oak Cottages, Lower Dicker, Hellingly, Sussex. She was 73 years and died from Myocardial Degeneration and her death was informed by Henry Winchester of the same address. I therefore presume that at the time of her death she was living with Henry, but I will have to wait for the release of the 1921 census to find that out!

I recently came across a book called ‘A Detective in Sussex’ written by Donald Maxwell (Published by The Bodly Head in 1932) that described a story about how Gaius Diana got his name. I am sure this story is somewhat embellished but I like to think there is a grain of truth in it:

“The curious use of the name Diana as a man’s Christian name happened in this wise. Old Mr Winchester, the father of this worthy, was in a state of great anxiety and restlessness for within a few hours, so said the good doctor, his wife would present him with a son or daughter. He was obsessed with the idea that he must think instantly of a name, but the difficulty was the uncertainty of the sex. He might be wasting his time choosing girl’s names if it should be a boy and likewise a great waste of energy choosing boy’s names if it should be a girl.

He firmly believed that the Bible was verbally inspired and was meant to be a guide for every eventuality. He would consult it in his dilemma and both name and sex could be determined at once. With trembling hands he carried the great volume to the table and in the solemn and fitful illumination of a candle opened the Book at random. The leaves fell apart and turned over slowly until they stopped towards the latter end of the tome. With impartial deliberateness he put his finger down upon a verse and it fell upon these words in the Acts of the Apostles. “Great is Diana of the Ephesians. And the whole city was filled with confusion; and having caught Gaius and ….” This short passage was enough; one name for a girl and one for a boy.

A boy was born and he was baptised Gaius Diana. A mild remonstrance on the part of one or two friends did nothing more than bring forth the assertion that the Bible could not be wrong. Mr Winchester scorned any tinkering with Holy Writ or he could have compromised on Ephesians. Ephesians Winchester would have sounded very well for a boy and for a girl it could have been shortened into Effie.”

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